Sunday, November 27, 2016

November 27, 2016- the darkness descends

            We are practically at the end of November. Sunset at this point in Iowa City is at 4:37 p.m. Unless we go home from work really early we now leave work in the dark. That hour of daylight we got back in the morning, when daylight savings time ended the first of the month, is slowly slipping away. Sunrise is now at 7:09. This darkness was particularly pronounced mid week when we had rainy weather for a few days. Without the sunshine it seemed to get dark about 3 in the afternoon.

         How do we get through this darkness? How do we survive the cold? Well, I have a suggestion. Join us here for the eleventh annual Mears Garden Picture Contest, in one week. It will appear right here on the blog. Invite your friends.
        The field is set. I have juggled colors, types of flowers and other photographic features, to give you a Sunday morning assist with the dark, all winter. There will be competition. There will be voting. There will be closeups of some of my favorite flowers. All in one more week.

In the real world the garden is settling in for winter. The leaves are mostly gone from the trees.

A hardy few plants still look good.
The pulmonaria and the hellebores are some of those plants. They look as green as they were in September. Actually they look greener as their green stands out more.

This is one pulmonaria. It is known for its spotted leaves. The brown background for pictures in the winter has arrived.

Here is another pulmonaria. At some point plants begin to grow where they want to. This one has begun to grow out into the path.

This is one of many hellebores. The foliage will stay green most of the winter. It does get a little ragged by March. You cut it down just about the time spring arrives. At that point the flowers will appear, and be without leaves for a while.

This is the new bed of mostly Louisiana Iris.

      Certain hellebore plants may even bloom in November or December. One variety is actually called the Christmas rose. Those early bloomers are the same ones each fall. I still remember the first hellebore flower that bloomed for Thanksgiving 10-15 years ago.
This picture was from a year ago.
      I looked this weekend to see if there were flowers this year. With the warm weather I would have thought that they would be there. I found some buds but no flowers. Maybe they will bloom for Christmas. I sometimes get worried when buds or bulbs emerge in the late fall. I then remember that plants, or at least most plants, have been around for a long time.

This is a little lupine sending up new growth. Certain perennials, such as lupines and oriental poppies just send up new growth in the fall. Why do they do it? The foliage will certainly not be there in February. The plants will never grow enough to bloom. Maybe it adds something to the root system. It is just a garden mystery.
The other day when it rained there was that dot of water right in the center of the leaf. It looked like a diamond. I particularly associate that watery feature with lupines.

Another plant that looks good still is my one hardy cyclamen. It is now 4-5 years old. I have difficulty growing cyclamen. This one likes its location, back by the garage.


         The indoor season has begun. I was focused for the last month on just bringing all the plants inside and getting them located. During that time mostly I did not think about maintenance. There are a lot of plants now inside. The final count was over 200 plants, not counting the Amaryllis which are now drying out in the inside garage.
         During this four day weekend I have had time to think about which plants need to be watered when. Certain cooperative plants, like big jade plants and the orchid cactus, will be on a monthly watering schedule. The regular orchids have to be watered every 1-2 weeks depending on the size of the pot and the potting medium. (Smaller pots dry out faster, as do plants potted in a bark mixture.)
         Crotons, and I now have a lot of them at this point, take a lot of water. I was reading about them on Friday. They do not like to get below 60 degrees. Several just got moved to a different room for that reason (one room upstairs is chilly). They also like to be watered from the top until the water comes out the bottom. That is all fine unless the pot is a big clay pot. I may determine that this just means giving the big pots a quart of water each week. Some varieties do let you know when they want water. They just start to go limp. A shot of water perks them right up.
        So what do you do when they start to frustrate you. I started trimming them and putting some of the cuttings in water. There will be more.
        And then there is the expected "leaf drop." This is not just the Crotons. The bouganvillea and the hibiscus just drop their leaves when they come inside. You plan for it.

         You do start to anticipate flowering of indoor plants the way you did the outside plants. Many of the orchids are starting to develope bloom stalks, called spikes. They can be in this condition for months. But then when they bloom they can bloom for months.

This wonderful cattleya orchid blooms every fall. I have had it at least since 2009. This year it had 5  spikes. They are all now blooming.

It was the centerpiece for our Thanksgiving table.


This little cactus is called Huernia Oculata. It bloomed on the kitchen window sill keeping company with all (plants and humans) in the kitchen.

Here is one of our Christmas cactus plants. It actually sets its buds outside in the fall, responding to the shortening days.

Julia's great recipe for spinach.

This spinach recipe is a variation on a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cookbook. There have been vegetarians in our house from time to time, both when we were young and more recently. I have no problems with vegetarian food so long as it tastes good. When we were young, we lived with some people who were interested in food theories (personal or planetary) rather than taste and it was, at times, grim. Rather than theories of nutrition, I prefer finding cuisines that do not rely on meat.

Some cuisines are better at this than others, for example Indian vegetarian cooking of all regions is very good.
So this is a side dish described as being from northern India. I started with a 1 pound bag of frozen chopped spinach. I do not use fresh spinach for cooked things because it takes a ridiculous amount of fresh spinach to get anywhere. So first cook the spinach and drain it very well. I use a mesh sieve positioned over a pot or bowl so the spinach can continue to drain (with a little help from a wooden spoon) while I am making the rest of the dish.

Next, mince a green chili. I used a jalapeno, which I seeded and diced. I had about 1 tablespoon. Jalapenos do not bother me (in terms of burning), but if you are sensitive, wear gloves or go with about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes instead. Then I grated some fresh ginger. I keep ginger root in a zip-top bag in the freezer, because I did not use it up fast enough and it would get moldy in the vegetable drawer. No such problem with the freezer. I grated it with one of those micro plane things. It grates up just fine in a frozen state. I don't even peel it, but of course, you could. I had about 1 tablespoon of grated ginger. I put both in a little bowl. Next I chopped up some scallions, and I ended up with about 3/4 cup.

I put a medium-sized skillet on the stove, and added in 1/4 vegetable oil (you could also use butter or if you are really prepared, ghee which is Indian clarified butter). I turned the heat to medium and added the scallions, which I stirred around for a couple of minutes until the green parts turned bright green, and then I added the ginger/jalapeno and stirred everything for about one minute. Then I added the spinach and stirred some more. Next I added 1/2 teaspoon sugar (yes, really) and 1/2 teaspoon salt (you may like a bit more salt, or you may be fine with 1/2 teaspoon). Then I stirred some more, turned the heat to low and put a lid on the skillet. I cooked the mixture gently for about 15 minutes to give everybody a chance to get acquainted.

Just before serving, I stirred in 3/4 teaspoon of garam masala. This is a spice mixture - mostly sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg on the order of curry powder or chili powder. I think that folks from India make their own, using recipes from their families. I buy it at the New Pioneer Food Coop, and I know it is available at Indian groceries. It is important to the recipe so I hope you have some or can find it.

That's it. The dish is smooth and green and a little bit spicy. This recipe made enough for 4 or 5 spinach fanciers. We had some leftover which Philip may eat for breakfast. He does that. Otherwise, it is nice in an omelet.


         I can not close this week without noting that we had a full day of sunshine yesterday, Saturday. It was much appreciated after a grey week. We took a drive down to Washington County, visiting Stringtown Grocery and one of our favorites, the Reha greenhouses, located in greater Wellman, Iowa.
         Stringtown Grocery is an old order Amish store, where you can get bulk everything. Those items that stand out in my memory were bulk gummy bananas and many things covered with chocolate. They have bulk sprinkles for cookies, in the shapes of cows and pigs. There were also pickled eggs, but not in bulk. How do you package pickled eggs? In quart size jars. Did you know that while Stringtown Grocery has no electricity, it has a Facebook page? It really does. I looked it up.
        At the greenhouse there were many many poinsettias. There certainly is a great variety these years. Someone told me that they grow as many as 10,000. There is a wholesale market somewhere there. They are also a source for many cactus and other succulents.
       O this road trip we saw out first eagle of the winter season. There is no mistaking an eagle. Big bird. White head. We then saw more eagles. The farm fields are beautiful in the sunshine. There is the gold of freshly harvested corn fields. Many fields were turning green with whatever cover crop had been planted this fall. Grant Wood comes to mind, of course.
       That's it for the week. We will get though this dark time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks for bringing your collective wit, wisdom and benign glow to much of the darker portions of the seasonal pendulum swings. I truly love each entry, and am thankful for the droll commentary and sly digs.

I can give this blog no higher praise than to say that it presents and reflects the myriad high qualities you each present in person. I'm glad and proud to know you.

While I'm here, just a note to say we won't have a Crisp-Muss CD this year. Some will attribute it to the darkness sweeping across the globe, but we'd sort of planned on last year's 10th edition to be a (semi) final edition. Mostly it's about a re-set of sorts, and also an acknowledgement that my heart and lungs aren't up to the 10-day ordeal of producing 110+ discs, covers, shipping & handling. Hope you'll find some cheer in past editions...I think you Bivalves have them all (yes?).

Kindest regards, Musser and Co.